thu 18/07/2024

Mark Lockheart, Kings Place | reviews, news & interviews

Mark Lockheart, Kings Place

Mark Lockheart, Kings Place

The saxophonist's Ellington homage casts a warm glow over Hall Two

A consistently inventive presence on the British jazz scene: Mark Lockheart

Suddenly, it's raining Duke Ellington homages. Stateside, there's Terri Lyne Carrington's Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue, a brilliant reimagining of Ellington's classic 1963 trio recording with Charles Mingus and Max Roach that recently hit the top spot on the JazzWeek radio chart.

Here in the UK, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra's latest release In the Spirit of Duke – recorded on tour during October 2012 – features an all-Duke programme which captures the Ellington Orchestra sound down to the tiniest detail. This evening at the QEH, the Nu Civilisation Orchestra joins the BBC Concert Orchestra for ‘Hidden Voices’, the centrepiece of which is Ellington’s groundbreaking Harlem (A Tone Parallel To Harlem).

Last night, a capacity Kings Place audience heard another outstanding contribution to this welcome wave of Ellingtonia: the London launch of saxophonist and composer Mark Lockheart's latest project, Ellington in Anticipation. An erstwhile member of the great Loose Tubes and a current mainstay of Mercury-nominated Polar Bear, Lockheart is one of the most consistently inventive musicians on the British jazz scene.

His treatment ranged from the reverential to the iconoclastic

A fan of Ellington's music since childhood – as a fresh faced 12-year-old he saw Duke's band play in Eastbourne – his treatment of some of the best loved themes in jazz ranged from the reverential to the iconoclastic. The familiar refrain of “It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)” was cast in a fetching new rhythmic and harmonic light, while “Satin Doll” morphed to such an extent that it became an entirely new piece, “Jungle Lady”.

In the magical transition from free time to pulse in “Come Sunday”, the textural doublings of “Creole Love Call” and the bringing together of the familiar with the freshly invented throughout, the subtleties of Lockheart's writing were everywhere in evidence. With its striking sonorities and rhythmic trickery, “Take The 'A' Train” perhaps came closest to an all-out Loose Tubes treatment. The chugging standstill at the end was a particularly Tubesesque detail.

From the rhythmic punch and pinpoint dynamic contrasts provided by fellow Polar Bear members Tom Herbert (bass) and Seb Rochford (drums), the delicate shadings of pianist Liam Noble, the countermelodic interest and powerful soloing of Finn Peters (alto sax, flute) and James Allsop (clarinets), plus the burnished legato and glacial harmonics of viola player Margrit Hasler, Lockheart's exceptional septet negotiated the intricacies of his arrangements with an almost nonchalant ease.

We were also treated to a number of arresting new Lockheart compositions from Ellington in Anticipation, of which “Uptown” possessed a jauntiness that bordered on effrontery. A feature for pianist Noble, “Beautiful Man” found the composer at his balladic best.

In the encore, “Indian Summer”, the luxuriant, carefully blended chords in saxes and flute cast a warm glow over the entire hall, even as the howling wind made its presence felt outside. Music-making of this calibre is rare indeed.


Love of the Duke shone through with every, however elliptical, note. Amazing ensemble playing, with exceptional sound balance and equality between the instruments, the whole superbly paced. The fabulous arranging was part of the Duke tribute. It was a brilliant example of how an act of homage to a great artist can produce something to be treasured in its own right. With references, in all the best ways, to the best of British jazz ensemble playing, with nods to Monk, Nucleus, Tracey and others along the way, I look forward to listening again and again to the CD to pick up all the richness I couldn't pick up on just one hearing. A genuine revelation for me and I hope this band and Lockheart's work gets all the exposure it deserves.

Hi Andy, Yes, completely agree re the sound - even during the most texturally complex passages you could hear each instrumentalist. And, yes, Ellington in Anticipation deserves the widest possible audience.

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